There is no greater honor for a baseball player than to be asked to spend a weekend in upstate New York five or more years after he retires. If invited, the player is being enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame, located in Cooperstown – a sleepy hamlet in the middle of nowhere with no appeal – except for the museum where baseball’s history, and greatest, are honored. While some future Hall of Famers are obvious – Albert Pujols might as well make his reservations at the Cooper Inn for five years from the day he announces his retirement – others will wait by the phone anxiously as the years tick by. And while a young superstar like Mike Trout seems like a sure thing now, he still needs five more seasons in the majors before he is even eligible. In this series, Dave McCullough looks at the Hall of Fame resumes of active, eligible players such as Miguel Cabrera, and asks whether they should consider booking a room at the Cooper Inn.
In the middle of April 2017, Miguel Cabrera will turn 34 years old. He will be entering his 15th major league season, having made his debut at the tender age of 20 with the (then) Florida Marlins. He spent the first five years of his career in Miami before being traded to the Detroit Tigers in 2008, his age 25 season. He is under contract with the Tigers until 2025, when he will be 42 years old. If he plays out the deal, it is highly likely that he will be making a drive toward the most revered and honored records in baseball history. For Miguel Cabrera is one of the greatest hitters ever – and the best of his generation.
The two-time MVP award winner has never NOT received Most Valuable Player votes in any of his completed 14 major league seasons. He has finished in the top five a remarkable seven times, with his wins coming in back-to-back seasons (2012 and 2013). Cabrera’s 2012 is a season for the ages – a .330 batting average, 44 home runs, and 139 runs batted in – and the first Triple Crown in baseball since Carl Yastrzemski’s 1967 impossible dream season. His 2013 numbers are – somehow – even better: a .348 average (along with a .442 on-base percentage), the same 44 home runs, “only” 137 runs batted in, but a .636 slugging percentage and an OPS+ of 190. In those two seasons, Cabrera was as good at the plate as any player in recent memory – non-Barry Bonds division, of course. No one other than Babe Ruth can compete with 2002-2004 Barry Bonds – but that is a different column, altogether.
In late 2016, Cabrera has 2,502 career hits – well on his way to the 3,000 milestone and probably far beyond. If he plays the remaining nine seasons on his contract at anything remotely close to his current level of performance, he has a chance to blow past Yaz – currently in eighth place on the career leaderboard for total hits with 3,419. He has an outside shot of surpassing Hank Aaron’s 3,771, which stands third all-time behind Pete Rose and Ty Cobb.
Meanwhile, Cabrera recently hit his 442nd home run, tying Dave Kingman for 41st place on the all-time list already. Another nine seasons of commensurate production would take Cabrera into the rarified air of the true immortals – Willie Mays’s 660, Ruth’s 714, and maybe even Aaron’s 755 or Bonds’s 762. Hitting homers has never been Cabrera’s main strength and he may well fall short of these lofty records. However, he’s also already 50th in career doubles – with a robust 521 – and, since he figures to lose a bit of pop as he ages, more homers may turn into doubles as the years roll on. Needing 200+ homers to get into the top five all-time, he also needs “just” 200 to leapfrog into the top five for doubles – and a few more than 300 to approach Cobb’s 724, Stan Musial’s 725, and Rose’s 746. Even Tris Speaker’s major league career record of 792 two-baggers may not be out of reach for the Venezuelan.
He is also likely – if he keeps up his career norms – to end up north of 6,000 total bases, which would be another top-five all-time performance. Of course, Albert Pujols is ahead of him on all of these lists currently, but he has begun to show signs of the inevitable decline. Cabrera has not – yet. Injuries have begun to show up but he will surpass 150 games played again this year and he hasn’t yet moved to designated hitter full-time, though he will before too long.
If he were to retire right now, Cabrera would be a lock for first-ballot to the Hall of Fame. Add nine more productive seasons to his statistics and he has the chance to become one of the immortals and a top-five offensive player in baseball history. His skills at the plate are beyond compare and his swing is something that can (and should) be used to teach “the right way” to play the game. Miguel Cabrera is a Hall of Famer, and possibly belongs in the conversation about the greatest hitters of all time.
VERDICT: Book him a room at the Cooper Inn. Heck, re-name a room at the Cooper Inn in his honor right now in anticipation of him showing up at some point in the next fifteen years to claim his spot in the inner circle.